Soul Stealers and Art Therapy: How Fear Constricts One’s Life

What is a "soul stealer"?

This is a limited weekly series about “soul stealers”. A soul stealer is something that zaps your energy and dulls your vital spark. It goes against your personal values and does not serve or nurture you. Our week three soul stealer is fear. If people allow fear to rule our lives, it can stagnate personal growth.

How fear and anxiety both helps and hinders us.

Fear can be adaptive and keep us safe from potential harm. It is normal to feel fear and anxiety in certain situations, like starting something new, during big life changes, illness, accidents or when feeling threatened. Some folks have a good intuitive sense of approaching danger. Stress hormones naturally circulate during fear. Cortisol and adrenaline are adaptive and help us to run away from harm's way. Long-term exposure to stress hormones is linked to health issues such as addictions, insomnia, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Fear and anxiety can become soul-stealing when it limits how people live their lives. It impedes personal growth because it can cause people to avoid new challenges and opportunities. In fear, one's imagination predicts negative events and terrifying scenarios of things that could happen.

How does fear present itself?

Fear and anxiety typically appear as nervousness, perspiring, heart palpitations and sleeplessness. It can also show up in other ways like:

  • Being a perfectionist.
  • Being suspicious of others.
  • Predicting the worst-case scenario.
  • Being confrontational and aggressive.
  • Being overly submissive and agreeable.
  • Being superstitious.
  • Not trying new things.
  • Being afraid of failure.
  • Being fault finding.
  • Avoiding exposure to certain things.

"Stuck in Fear". Markers and Pencil Crayons, by Heather Caruso

Where does fear come from?

If fear is outside of the normal, it may be linked to past trauma and negative experiences. People with traumatic stress require counselling by a trauma-informed therapist.

Fear may have also developed from negative life experiences. For example, perfectionists avoid making errors to avoid being criticized. People may go out of their way to avoid experiencing a negative situation and the emotions that go along with it again. For example, when a child drew a picture, their art teacher told them they were no Michaelangelo and criticized their work. The other children laughed at them. As an adult, this person avoids anything artistic, saying they are not creative. They simply fear being ridiculed. Some people fear needles after watching a parent faint during one. They associate needles with the feeling that they had when they thought their parent had died from a vaccine.

People who fear doing new things may feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and fear failure. Fear may be less related to experiences but linked to thought patterns, coping strategies, or learned behaviours. Doing deeper investigative work to determine the source of fear may be necessary.

What can you do to help?

Identify your triggers and pain points. Recognizing the origin of certain fears can create perspective and healing. If it stems from past trauma or is life-limiting seek professional help.

Art therapy reduces feelings of fear and anxiety. It helps people communicate through artmaking and it bypasses the brain's verbal centers. In people who struggle with words, art therapy helps expression. Creating art is relaxing and provides opportunities for personal insight. Art can take the fear from one's mind and place it into their creation. The art can be discussed more deeply and the therapist can offer positive coping tools.

Heather Caruso is an art therapist at Art Therapy Guelph. She offers both one-on-one and group art therapy sessions. For more information, contact us today. Click Here.